Thirty-nine people, many of them members or associates of the Sundowners Motorcycle Club, were charged in state and federal courts Thursday with making and selling methamphetamine and using threats of violence to get buyers to pay debts.
Officials allege that Sundowners used their clubhouse as a distribution point for meth, or at least as a meeting place for those interested in purchasing meth. Taped phone calls of some of those indicted talk about "hooking up," a phrase commonly used as a euphemism for obtaining drugs, court documents state."Hopefully, we took the wheels off the Sundowners Motorcycle Club," FBI Special Agent in Charge David Tubbs said.
Among those charged were Sundowner's President Richard "Blue" Knudsen, whom police consider the ring leader. Knudsen, 45, Magna, was charged with 47 counts of criminal activity in nine separate federal indictments.
Charles "Chico" Miralez, 43, Salt Lake City, also a member of the Sundowners, faces 56 criminal counts inthe federal indictments and two state charges.
Deborah McGray, 34, Salt Lake, and Travis Suazo, 28, are both charged with 16 criminal counts. Suazo is the son of state Sen. Pete Suazo, D-Salt Lake.
Miralez also faces two state charges. Travis Suazo's brother, Abel Suazo, 22, Salt Lake, also was charged with three federal counts.
In a written statement released by Sen. Suazo, he said he was "stunned" by the news that his boys were taken into custody.
"These events illustrate that no family is immune to the growing problem of drugs and crime," Suazo states. "As a parent and a legislator, I will continue to be a leaders in the fight against drugs and crime. This has been a sad and difficult day for me and my family."
The charges are the culmination of a year-long joint investigation by FBI agents and the Salt Lake City Police Department.
As of Friday, 37 of those charged had been arrested, including six who were picked up in a Thursday morning raid of the Sundowners clubhouse, 17 S. 800 West. The remaining two people are still at large and now considered fugitives, Tubbs said.
In all, 30 people were indicted federally. Five of those also face state charges and nine face state charges alone, U.S. Attorney Paul Warner said.
If convicted, those indicted could spend 10 to 30 years in jail for each count charged against them and pay between $250,000 and millions of dollars in fines, Warner said.
The indictments seek to take possession of items believed to have been purchased with proceeds of drug sales, including the Sundowners clubhouse and the organization's bank accounts held at First Security Bank, several camper-trailers and the Harley-Davidson motorcycles belonging to Knudsen and others.
In addition to Knudsen, Miralez, McGray and Suazo, the following individuals were indicted on six to 10 counts: Sheryl Cano, 45, Salt Lake, Wayne Davis, 37, Murray, Randy Harris, 44, Bountiful, Shawna Jensen, 31, Taylorsville, Amber Judd, 27, Salt Lake and Antonio Ochoa, 38, Salt Lake.
Many of those arrested will appear in federal court Friday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Ronald Boyce.
The nine separate indictments include the following federal criminal charges:
Indictment A -- 62 counts, including using a firearm in the commission of a drug crime, distribution of a controlled substance, use of a communication device in committing a crime, conspiracy and continuing criminal enterprise. (17 defendants plus the Sundowners organization).
Indictment B -- two counts of selling a firearm to a known felon and the sale of a firearm to an abuser of a controlled substance. (Knudsen only).
Indictments C and D -- six combined counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (two defendants).
Indictment E -- one count of collection of a debt by extortion (nine defendants).
Indictment F -- 29 counts of drug distribution, conspiracy, attempted drug distribution and aiding and abetting (10 defendants and the Sundowners).
Indictments G and H -- one count each of being a felon in possession of a firearm (Miralez only).
The state charges include the crimes of aggravated burglary, aggravated assault, operating a clandestine laboratory, possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, soliciting the distribution of a controlled substance, distribution of a controlled substance, tampering with a witness and arranging or consenting to distribute a controlled substance.
Shutting down the Sundowners-based operation will do little to reduce the amount of drugs available on Salt Lake streets but will go a long way toward stifling the activities of the "criminal element" afoot in Salt Lake's west-side neighborhoods, Salt Lake Police Chief Reuben Ortega said.
The joint effort between federal agents and city police is part of an ongoing federal program called "Weed and Seed" that is designed to help cities focus on problem crime areas. Salt Lake has targeted gang and drug problems on the west side between about 600 West and Redwood Road, North Temple and 2100 South, Ortega said.
Prior to Thursday's arrests, "Weed and Seed" operations had resulted in 100 other arrests for unrelated crimes, Ortega said.
"This operation and its success . . . what it will do to that neighborhood is make it safe," Ortega said.